Are you avoiding love? Avoidance and reversed boundaries

In an ideal world, we should be letting the good in, and the bad out. Filling our lives with people that make us smile and cheerlead us, people who are there for us when things go wrong. We should allow people to listen to our troubles and help us, just like we do for them. And be strong enough to leave people that hurt us, who make us cry.

It sounds so simple. Build healthy relationships and avoid toxic ones. Yet how often do we do the exact opposite? Asking people for help, emotional or practical, is my nightmare. Whenever I have problems I feel that I should hide them, put on a smile, and not burden my friends. I only share problems with them when things have gotten so bad that I can’t handle it. Even then, I feel guilty and have the need to get back on my feet as soon as possible. For me, having needs is bad and shameful – if I were strong enough, if I were “good”, I wouldn’t need other people.

And yet, I’ve sat back and allowed people to shout at me, diminish me, gaslight me, tell me what to do with my life. This is called reversed boundaries.

"Individuals who have both boundary conflicts not only cannot refuse evil, but they are unable to receive the support they so readily offer to others. They are stuck in a cycle of feeling drained, but with nothing to replace the lost energy." - Cloud, Henry; Townsend, John. Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition (p. 55).

If you have reversed boundaries, you’re stuck feeling less important. Your needs are not that serious. Your pain will go away. You should be strong, keep it all in, and it will go away at some point. In the meantime, help others, whose problems are always more important than yours.

We all need a support group to be there for us – both in the good and bad times. People to celebrate our promotion with, or help us move out when we get a divorce. This has nothing to do with being strong or weak, it’s our nature. How do you think we got here? By sticking together, helping each other, building communities. It’s how we evolved.

To reach out, we need to select the people we go to wisely. When I had to set some boundaries with my dad, I felt that my world was collapsing. I talked about it with some people, yet I still couldn’t find peace. None of my friends had gone through what I was going through, and their responses seemed very superficial relative to the situation. It was only in group therapy, when people shared similar experiences, and the therapists explained to me what enmeshment is, and what the process of breaking out of it feels like, that I finally felt better.

We tend to go to the people close to us for any sort of help, but we need to first see if they have the skills to help us with our problem, and then if they have the capacity to do so at that time.

We need different support at different times; a friend with really good boundaries can ring the alarm bell when we let someone mistreat us, a mentor can give us professional advice, someone in a healthy relationship can give us advice on romance.

Remember, needing other people is not only normal, but it’s the most human of experiences. After all, we’re social beings. That’s what makes us special. It’s the love we give, and the love we get. So don’t forget to be open to love and embrace your vulnerability. It’s what allows you to get up again.

Self check-in

  • Do you avoid letting people close to you, yet you're often mistreated?

  • Do you put other people's needs before yours?

  • Do you feel uneasy when someone does something nice for you?

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